We’re in the midst of a horror renaissance thanks to the slew of new horror video games and Nic Cage’s wildly successful stint as a scream king. Here are 20 must-read horror books that need film adaptations, large or little, for your creepiest bedtime TBR.
In these times of rising anxiety about global warming, war, fascism, and the economy, it’s normal to turn to horror films for solace. For Matt Schimkowitz, the haunted home genre is a reflection of housing market issues in the United States during the previous half-century, as he writes for The A.V. Club. Horror films have taken on issues of racism in recent years, especially since the Great Recession and the election of Donald Trump.
Horror is more popular than ever, and while it may portend doom in the near future, you may find solace in the fiction that deals with the subject. Even if the characters in a horror literature, video game, or movie aren’t so fortunate, you’ve made it to the end of the book, game, or movie. The ability to enjoy a horror tale, then, is the ability to weather a storm and emerge unscathed from the experience.
So, if you like frightening movies, you should read the novels listed below. Twenty of the best horror books ever written are ripe for a cinematic adaptation.
BY TANANARIVE DUE
A judge in Miami receives racial threats in the mail from people who don’t like his wife, and Hilton realizes that the tragedy of his youth was never far from him. Hilton is diagnosed with schizophrenia because he is unable to distinguish between the world he shares with his wife and the parallel universe he inhabits. Is he insane or is he tormented by something else? Tananarive Due’s debut novel, first published in 1995 and reissued in 2021, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in 1996.
BY BETHANY C. MORROW
Cherish Farrah is described as a cross between Get Out and My Sister the Serial Killer, and it follows two teenage girls who are the only Black females at their parents’ country club. Farrah’s lifestyle might be in jeopardy if her family’s financial situation worsens. Having hatched a scheme to live with Cherish and her white parents, she discovers that not all is as it appears.
CLOWN IN A CORNFIELD
BY ADAM CESARE
A cinematic version of this novel is already under development, which is great news for fans. In case you haven’t yet, I highly recommend Clown in a Cornfield. Around the Baypen Corn Syrup Factory, kettle springs appeared. As of now, the plant has shut down, and it appears that the town as well is on its way out. When Baypen’s mascot, Frendo the Clown, embarks on a murdering rampage, the youngsters of Kettle Springs may have no option but to succumb to his wrath.. August 2022 will see the release of Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives.
A COLLAPSE OF HORSES
BY BRIAN EVENSON
A collection of Brian Evenson’s short stories would be wonderful. My favorite Evenson collection is Collapse of Horses, but there is no right response to the question, “What is your favorite Evenson book?” I believe that. At The American Reader, you may read the book’s title tale, which follows a narrator who couldn’t stand the disparity between the accounts he and his wife give of their lives. Please tell me they have three or four children. Is that window where it was always? And what is it about the horse paddock that he finds so compelling?
BY ALMA KATSU
When the Titanic sank, Annie was working as a maid on board. She, too, believes the ship was haunted before the calamity hit, as do many of the other survivors. Several decades later, she returns to the ocean as a nurse on the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic. It’s there that she runs into Mark, a man she last met on the Titanic… A man who should be dead by now. A miniseries adaptation of Alma Katsu’s chilling tale of historical horror would be a welcome addition to the small screen.
BY JUSTINA IRELAND
Series like The Walking Dead and Lovecraft Country have a logical heir in Dread Nation and Deathless Divide. The divided United States comes together to face a new menace as zombies emerge from the battlefields of the American Civil War. Protecting white people against zombies is a new form of service for newly freed Black and Native American youngsters. In contrast to the poorer, non-white children, Jane’s rich white mother affords her the option to train as an Attendant, a bodyguard who will work closely with a white family.
EMPIRE OF WILD
BY CHERIE DIMALINE
As in the case of The Outsider, Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline follows a Métis lady named Joan as she searches for her lost husband. Joan hooks up with Victor during an evangelical revival in a Wal-Mart parking lot after he’s been away for a year. Except that he no longer addresses himself as Victor and has no recollection of Joan…
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE
BY SHIRLEY JACKSON
Hill House has previously been adapted, as I’m sure you’re aware. And yes, you are correct! When it comes to Hill House, only one of the adaptations has been faithful to the source material—and that’s over 60 years ago. The classic tale of paranormal investigation, psychic happenings, and a mansion gone Wrong by Shirley Jackson merits a reprint in the near future.
A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS
BY PAUL TREMBLAY
It’s Paul Tremblay’s breakout smash that moves back and forth between the past and the present as one young woman strives to finally tell the story of her family’s encounter with the uncanny. Her older sister Marjorie, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 14, began showing signs of illness while Merry was only 8. Marjorie’s jobless father signed the family up for a reality program to chronicle her exorcism, believing her to be possessed. Fifteen years later, horror fans are still unsure of what transpired in the film. But will Merry be able to recount the story, or is she too scared? Check out my book review here Book Review: Head Full of Ghosts
THE LOST VILLAGE
BY CAMILLA STEN
Only a woman’s body and a wailing infant were left at Silvertjarn in 1959. Alice, a documentary filmmaker, has a personal connection to Silvertjarn and is here to find out more. However, this isolated area of Sweden isn’t talking. An unfortunate chain of events forces Alice to face the possibility that something or someone is still lurking in the abandoned mining town.
THE LUMINOUS DEAD
BY CAITLIN STARLING
The Luminous Dead is a master of the claustrophobic fear that comes with cave horror. A down-and-out mercenary makes a heinous ruse to snag a lucrative job. However, the job for which she is being compensated is not the one she agreed to accept. Because she’s all by herself, Gyre has no choice but to put her faith in Em, her boss and navigator, to lead her back to the surface. But why does Em have so much power over Gyre’s body and why does she do anything she wants with it?
BY SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA
Her husband, Virgil, wants to kill her as soon as they are married, Catalina tells her family. Noem, Catalina’s cousin, is forbidden from seeing or speaking to her when she visits Virgil’s ancestral house, the distant High Place. Virgil’s house and family are on the radar for Noemi, who is convinced that something is wrong. What she discovers, on the other hand, will not be pleasant. Jane Eyre and Get Out aficionados, look no further than this chilling work.
MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW
BY STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES
In My Heart Is a Chainsaw, horror gets meta. Jade, a biracial kid living in a small town in Idaho, has relied on horror movies as a source of comfort. This is a blessing, since Jade is going to need every bit of horror movie knowledge she has. The murdering spree near Proofrock, Idaho, means it’s now her turn to shine.
NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH
BY CASSANDRA KHAW
Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth is another meta offering, focusing on a destination wedding in an unorthodox way. A ghostly Heian castle is where Talia and Faiz, two paranormal investigators, hope to tie the knot. The castle’s hitobashira, a young woman whose fiancé perished on their wedding day centuries ago, is said to demand a new sacrifice every year. Those three well-wishers they’ve brought along may be anything but, as well. Is anyone in the wedding party going to be able to make it through the night?
BY HIDEAKI SENA
The human mitochondrial hivemind Eve has huge ideas for the next stage of our evolution, and she’s not afraid to say so. To bring about the end of the world, she only needs the perfect host. As a result of its box office failure in 1997, the J-horror film adaptation of this 1995 novel—which also inspired an ongoing manga series and a three-part video game trilogy—needs to be remade in the 2020s.
THE RIVER AT NIGHT
BY ERICA FERENCIK
In this gripping tale of survival, a girls’ getaway turns fatal for four middle-aged women. They were hoping that a whitewater rafting trip in rural Maine would help them bond. A rare catastrophe leaves the Wini and her friends in a race against time to save themselves from certain death. Furthermore, they aren’t the only ones in the woods that are stuck without any actual survival gear.
THE SILENT COMPANIONS
BY LAURA PURCELL
One year ago, Elsie escaped a fire that was both terrifying and mysterious. One guy, an expert in the developing area of experimental psychology, is tasked with determining whether or not she is guilty of murder. An eerie tale of a pregnant widow, a mysterious journal, and a mansion that no one dares enter is revealed via their interviews. The house is filled with lifelike wooden figurines.
TENDER IS THE FLESH
BY AGUSTINA BAZTERRICA
An animal-borne virus has shown to be harmful to people who consume contaminated meat in the near future. People face famine after banding together to exterminate other species out of fear. Countless nations have made cannibalism an accepted way of life, turning unlucky victims into meat for the butchery. In this brave new world of meat-packing, though, a middleman receives a female skull as an unusual present.
BY NICK CUTTER
In this 2014 book, a camping vacation goes awry on two fronts. In the midst of a battle for their life, five teenagers find themselves in the hands of a physician scout commander. The guys are stranded on a tiny island with a terrible infestation and rising conflict within their ranks. They must find a way to live. In 2019, it was announced that James Wan will be making a film adaptation of this novel.
BY ELIZABETH HAND
Their band hired up the eponymous rural manor to record their new album a few years back. Julian, the band’s leader, went missing after a weird series of events. He was last seen somewhere inside the huge property. In order to investigate the riddle of Julian’s disappearance, a documentary filmmaker has invited Julian’s former bandmates back to Wylding Hall with a psychic in tow. But what secrets will they bring back with them?
It’s clear that horror is a genre that can speak to the anxieties of any era. What does the future hold for our nightmares? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. In the meantime, if you want to get ahead of the curve and explore some truly spine-tingling stories, make sure to check out my list of 20 must-read horror books that deserve adaptations, big screen or small. And if there’s a particular title that you think deserves a movie treatment, let me know in the comments! I always love hearing from readers.
I’m definitely adding Clown in a Cornfield, The Deep, and The Lost Village to my tbr. Great list!
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Awesome. I hate clowns but that one is a yes
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